Rebuilding Catholic Culture: How the Catechism Can Shape Our Common Life


by Ryan S.Topping

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

The author begins his work with asking the reader the question: What kind of risks are we willing to take? Recently, Pope Francis, asked each parish to have a group devoted to risk taking on behalf of the Holy Spirit. The ordinary person takes risks because he is in love with his life or what he can accomplish in his life. ”vitality adventure, and gain always include risk”. We know that we have to act by using a principle that fits us all, basically the Trust Principle: trust is a necessary human virtue. But knowing when and where not to trust is a prudential judgment. We constantly have to figure out the reasonableness of calculated risk. However, we act under the guise of partial knowledge.


The section in the book on faith struggles with the outside manifestation of faith as the substance to be hoped for and the interior manifestation as the definitive need for purity of heart. “Mystics and theologians stress that even the intellectual aspect of the act of faith is not solely a matter of the intellect seeing by faith requires purity of heart. ….Without purity of heart, the intelligence remains closed to God. Enlightenment requires conversion.” It is evident in the text that faith is a gift. God initiates the contact with man by revelation and God provides for man ‘the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith”. (CCC 35).There has been consistent division in universities (both private and secular) in what area a person should consider. Unfortunately, there is too much pressure on buying into the fad of the day, to replicate what your department wants and to adhere to what funding agencies expect. Faith does build upon reason. There is an expectation to believe in reasonable authorities. Whether this risk is reasonable or that person is trustworthy the Church asks us to pursue faith with the issues of Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium would be met in a way that is faithful to all three. The catechism subsumes Scripture under the category of tradition. Scripture is subsumed not in the sense of being less authoritative than Tradition but as belonging within it. The Magisterium functions as the third authority or source of revelation.


The Center of our Creed is Jesus Christ so this section of the text deals with all that is Christ. In looking at contemporary Christology one realizes that without that marvelous balance of contraries which Catholic orthodoxy is, man loses God, man loses himself, man even loses the right to walk upon the ground beneath his feet. “The resources of our age have not allowed modern man to be capable of using nature without abusing her or of respecting Mother Earth without bowing down to worship at her dusty feet.” The section on the liturgy brings into site the importance of taking liturgy as the heart of our mission. “Liturgy is an exercise of the priestly office of Christ, and it is through worship that Christ (through the Church) acts most powerfully in the world. The primary role that liturgy has in forming character and communicating God’s grace is one reason “Benedict XVI has dedicated much of his pontificate to restoring dignity in the corporate worship.”


In the section on the sacraments, the author is filled with the benchmarks that the sacraments afford us. He reminds us of the restlessness of our lives and our search for that which is at the heart of who we are. He refers us to the art, beauty, architecture of life and the call to see them visibly manifest in the sacraments. In the next section on virtue, Topping directs us to think about conscience which is certainly the underlying support of virtue. Cardinal Cupich has written about conscience in a way that would call us to what Topping is saying. Without a life of virtue fortified by conscience we have a vacuous life. Virtue provides the springboard for evangelization and the goodness of our lives to be shared with others. It provides an adherence to the language of the new morality and harkens back to the past so the best of both can be offered to the faithful. “Like all training, learning to exercise the judgement of conscience requires an apprenticeship, an education.”


The next section on law drives us to The Divine Comedy in which purgatory is situated naturally between Hell and Heaven. In Hell there is no hope; heaven contains no struggle; only purgatory like earth, remains a site for progress. “Having rejected the good, those in hell find reason is lost, and it hope. Dante guides us through twenty-four circles of hell, not to avenge his enemies but to make clear the calamity of sin. All our decisions count. With their effects before our senses we see with sharper vision the image of choices. God grants what we wish.”


My grandson is a mischievous little boy who knows when he does wrong. His reparation is to go out in his backyard and give a hug to the statue of Mother Mary. He is 3 so he is just becoming aware of God in his life. It is a beginning that will continue so Topping in this final section on family, attends to the issue of our earliest remembrances. He states; “In concentrating on the family we have concerned ourselves not so much with the fruits of Christian prayer as with its roots. In the usual course of a believer’s life, the habits of prayer are established first in childhood, in the native soil of the family.” Other spiritual literature is replete with the notion of early prayer formation in our home, the domestic Church we all start from. “The fight for Catholic culture is a battle for the family, for the school, for the hospital, and for the Church. The fragmentary condition of our age has left little middle ground for those who would say neither yes not no to Christ. Not only does sanctity rely upon faith, so apparently does sanity.”


This is an excellent book that can be read with the catechism in the other hand. The chapter formulations allow us to read in little pieces so we can ingest the joy and goodness and challenge our Church offers to us during our lifetime. I would give this book to RCIA people as well as people who continue to be transformed by the love of Jesus Christ

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